May 27, 2014
CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark
Print Book Distribution
Last week I did the first part of this comparison. You can view it here. This week concludes the post.
Weighing the Other Factors
Any time that you are comparing services and products, it turns out to be far more complex than you thought it was going to be. This was no different. Comparing print distributors involves a lot of options; it’s not simply looking at price and quality. This is where the “ease of use” comes in.
Ease of Use
Whether you categorize this as ease of use or difficulty of setup, doesn’t matter. It’s like asking if the glass is half full or half empty. No matter which term you use, CS comes out on top.
- CS is easy. You can upload your file, and—if you are prepared—you can finish in less than an hour. They even offer an expert option to save time if you know what you’re doing.
- Spark is not as easy. Ingram was designed for professionals and the process reflects that. It’s not difficult once you get to know the system, but the learning curve is steeper.
I have heard a lot of complaints about the difficulty of working with Ingram. I’ll be the frist to admit it isn’t as easy as CS, but I also have to be honest and say, it really isn’t that difficult. If you are prepared (like you should be with CS or Ingram) and you have the files and information you need in front of you, it takes very little time or effort to do it right. In fact, it takes me about the same amount of time to upload a book to Ingram as it does with CS, although I’ve been through this before.
CreateSpace really shines here. They have an online chat system that is second to none. If you need to speak to a representative, enter your phone number and hit the “call me now” button and your phone will ring within seconds. (No kidding—seconds!) Spark is working hard on improvement, and I have to give them credit for that. In recent months, I have seen one of their top management team join discussion groups to answer questions and provide advice. That shows their head is in the right place. In fact, while writing this post, I received news that Ingram Spark now has an 800 number for customers. A huge step in the right direction.
When I mention changes what I really mean is the costs associated with making changes, and, once again, CreateSpace wins this hands down. If you make an error—and many indie authors do—you simply upload a new file. No charge. With Spark, if you make an error, you upload a new file, but you will have to pay $25. This is not an insignificant item or one to be overlooked. Everyone makes mistakes, especially indie authors, and if you have to upload a new file to fix them, it will cost you with Spark.
Cost per copy
As you can see the cost per copy is very close on B&W—within 35c, but the cost for color shows a tremendous difference—about $13 for a 300-page book. This one isn’t even a contest. If you need a color book, especially if it has more than a few dozen pages, you should definitely use Spark.
CreateSpace will provide you with one of their own ISBNs free of charge. The problem with that is they will be listed as the publisher of record. I’d advise against that and I will cover that in a future post. However, they also have a few new options—$10 and $99 choices—which give you the option of naming your own imprint. I’m not fond of doing it this way, but again, it’s a topic to be discussed later. Spark requires you to have your own ISBN. (You can purchase them directly from Bowker in the US, or from Nielsen in the UK.)
CreateSpace does not offer hardcover. Spark does. (I believe you can ask CS to print personal copies in HC, but not for distribution.)
CreateSpace does not allow returns. Spark does. What this means, is if you plan on trying to get into the brick-and-mortar stores, you’ll need to use Ingram.
Time To Publish
This is another area where I’ve seen a lot of authors and bloggers talk about how quickly CS gets their book to market, but Ingram is so much slower. It’s yet another case of not comparing apples to apples. Yes, CS can, and will, get your book published on Amazon quicker than Ingram can get it published anywhere. But there is that little point of CS being owned by Amazon. I think that helps. On the other hand, CS won’t get you into B&N, or BAM, or anywhere else faster than Ingram. In fact, CS uses Ingram for distribution.
This is the one close to my heart. People value things differently, but to me, quality is the most important aspect. In this area, Ingram shines.
- The print is a rich, crisp black.
- The cream paper doesn’t look as if had been left out in the sun.
- The white paper is bright and clean.
- The covers are true to the colors you submit, and their covers fit perfectly.
With CS I have experienced a number of problems with covers, but the biggest complaints have been with the ink. It almost always appears faded, and I haven’t been happy with their cream paper.
Summary of Pros and Cons
CreateSpace has the edge on:
- Price per unit, B&W.
- Ease of use
- Customer service
- ISBNs (if you want to use them)
- Setup costs and yearly fees
- Domestic shipping
Ingram Spark Has the Edge On:
- Price per unit, Color.
- International shipping
I have seen a lot of companies rush in to take advantage of authors during this surge in self-publishing. Most of them are easy to spot if you dig deep enough, but some aren’t. The difficult part, being an author, is in being able to spend the time to validate a company and see if what they’re selling is, in fact, a good deal. Sometimes even a good company offers services that aren’t the best.
CS is a top choice for fulfilling an author’s print needs, but I suggest a word of caution about some of their other offerings. From what I’ve seen, you can do far better shopping elsewhere for things like cover services and/or marketing help. Which brings us to one of my favorite points to make. Look at intent. Any time that you are evaluating a vendor or a service company, look at what their intent is. In the case of CS, they offer a lot for free or at a very reasonable price, but is it so they can “upsell” you to other services?
On the other hand, Ingram has no hidden agendas. They offer print services. They don’t charge a commission; they don’t offer cover design, or marketing, or layout, or ISBNs, or anything else. Ingram makes money when you sell a lot of books. That is their motivation—to sign up customers who will sell a lot of books. In other words, they want the same thing I do.
You might think it’s great that CS offers to sell you an ISBN for $99 that you can put your own imprint on. But step back a minute and think. If you spend another $196 you can have 10 of them. And let’s not forget that CS is not doing this out of the goodness of their heart; they make $98 per ISBN at that price. Yes, you didn’t read that wrong. They buy them for a maximum of $1 apiece. (Actually less)
So What Do I Do?
Long ago I stopped looking at any company or service as good or bad. I look at them with one thing in mind—how can they help me achieve my goals? So instead of saying:
- CS doesn’t have the best quality.
- Ingram’s customer service isn’t as good.
- CS has terrible shipping to AU.
- Ingram’s distribution and discounts are better.
Instead of saying that, I do the opposite. I use the best from each company. And it works magnificently. Here’s how I do it.
I use CS for Amazon only, as far as distribution goes. That means I do not sign up for expanded distribution when I create a new book.
I use CS for US shipping to readers who order from my website, or for giveaways, or to send review books to bloggers, etc. They really shine in this department. It’s inexpensive and it’s quick.
I use Ingram for all other distribution. That means every book that goes to B&N, or BAM, or Charter Books, or to Libraries, or if they get ordered by bookstores…those books come from Ingram. If I send books to independent bookstores in an effort to get in with them, I use Ingram also. I do this for two reasons: Quality is better; and I don’t want the bookstore to see it came from CS.
I also use Ingram if I have to ship to AU, or UK, or anywhere in the world, except the US. And I use Ingram for an initial order to myself to keep for autographed books. Purchasing through Spark not only refunds your sign-up fee, it gives you an inventory of high-quality books to autograph. After all, the people who ask for autographed books are most likely your best customers. Give them your best material.
By the way, if you want to see a comparison on ebook distribution, I did one here a few months ago. Take a look.
Here is a short infographic that sums up most of what was discussed here.
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”
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If you want to download the pdf of the Infographic, click the button below.
CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark — Download pdf